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Sports Illustrated Can't Turn Us into Swimsuit Models

Sports Illustrated Can't Turn Us into Swimsuit Models


Feb 19 2013
How the beauty culture blasphemes our bodies.

This year's Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue contains a new feature, a six-page style guide "to help women recreate the looks they see in the issue."

When I told my husband about it, a confused look came over his face. "You mean they are trying to say that ordinary people can look like the models in the Swimsuit Issue?" And then he laughed incredulously. "But no one looks like them!" Not even the models themselves look like that, if we believe what we've seen and heard about retouching.

A reported 18 million women already read the swimsuit issue, and a good number of them read it prescriptively, learning how they need to look to be attractive. As Laura Portwood-Stacer, a visiting assistant professor of media at NYU, told theNew York Times:

Women learn on a daily basis, unconsciously but also consciously, how to carry themselves, how to present themselves in a way that will be deemed acceptable and attractive by others… As such a major cultural institution, it makes sense that the swimsuit edition would be a sort of bible for that kind of learning.

I'd like to think that most grown women would find this guide, called "Secrets of Swimsuit," as patently ridiculous as my husband did. Don't we all know that the "secrets" of Photoshop probably play as big a role in the Swimsuit Issue as extreme exercise and liquid starvation diets do in the Victoria's Secret fashion shows? Don't we know that the images are—in more senses than one—not real?

In her memoir Bossypants, Tina Fey claims that everyone knows Photoshopped images aren't real, but she also acknowledges that the culture of beauty has changed significantly since she was a girl. Back then, "you were either blessed with a beautiful body or not. And if you were not, you could just chill out and learn a trade."

Today, however, "if you're not 'hot' you are expected to work on it until you are… If you don't have a good body, you'd better starve the body you have down to a neutral shape, then bolt on some breast implants, replace your teeth, dye your skin orange, inject your lips, sew on some hair, and call yourself Playmate of the year."

I understand this implicit cultural expectation so well; for years, I struggled to remake what I was in the image of all I thought I should be. As I've written in my new book, Eat With Joy: Redeeming God's Gift of Food, for years,

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